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Do women really dislike competition?


Competition in the workplace is one of those topics that tends to succumb to a wide range of myths.  For instance, it’s pretty easy to believe that competition is a bad thing for a social business.  After all, it’s challenging to collaborate and share information with colleagues that you’re competing with.

A study from earlier this year seemed to confirm this point, albeit only to an extent.  It suggested that women are at their creative peak when they’re in teams that aren’t competing against one another.

“Intergroup competition is a double-edged sword that ultimately provides an advantage to groups and units composed predominantly or exclusively of men, while hurting the creativity of groups composed of women,” the researchers say.

“Women contributed less and less to the team’s creative output when the competition between teams became cutthroat, and this fall-off was most pronounced in teams composed entirely of women,” they continue.

The study provided an interesting companion to an earlier piece highlighting some of the traits that were most conducive to innovation in the workplace.  It found that innovative character traits were generally found in women more than men.

Do women dislike competition?

It kinda creates an impression that women are not very keen on competition.  It’s a perception that a recent study from researchers at Aalto University suggests is all wrong.  The study explored the physiological responses we give off when we’re engaged in competitive and cooperative situations, with the express intention of understanding any differences between males and females.

It emerged that whilst men did generally prefer competition more than cooperation, the reverse was not the case for women, who were found to enjoy both states in equal measure.

“Although there is a lot of research on gender differences, nobody has studied the emotions – the physiological mechanism that steers our behaviour – of competitive and cooperative activities in males and females before. This gives a better insight into why people behave the way they do. You may unconsciously give false information about your motivations, but your body doesn’t lie”, the researchers say.

“Our results suggest that parts of the common stereotypes are untrue, at least in that women are not enjoying cooperation any more than competition. And it seems that the fact that men do enjoy competition more than cooperation might actually be a consequence from gender expectations rather than innate differences,” they continue.

So maybe it’s all a case of creating an environment that promotes cooperation and showing the men in your organization that it isn’t something they necessarily have to exhibit to get ahead.  Such an environment then may create the footing for male employees to score as highly as their female peers in supporting innovation.

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